ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, is an independent, non-governmental organization, the members of which are the standards organizations of the 163 member countries. It is the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards and facilitates world trade by providing common standards between nations. Over twenty thousand standards have been set covering everything from manufactured products and technology to food safety, agriculture and healthcare.
Use of the standards aids in the creation of products and services that are safe, reliable and of good quality. The standards help businesses increase productivity while minimizing errors and waste. By enabling products from different markets to be directly compared, they facilitate companies in entering new markets and assist in the development of global trade on a fair basis. The standards also serve to safeguard consumers and the end-users of products and services, ensuring that certified products conform to the minimum standards set internationally.
The organization today known as ISO began in 1926 as the International Federation of the National Standardizing Associations (ISA). It was suspended in 1942 during World War II, but after the war ISA was approached by the recently formed United Nations Standards Coordinating Committee (UNSCC) with a proposal to form a new global standards body. In October 1946, ISA and UNSCC delegates from 25 countries met in London and agreed to join forces to create the new International Organization for Standardization; the new organization officially began operations in February 1947.
ISO is a voluntary organization whose members are recognized authorities on standards, each one representing one country. Members meet annually at a General Assembly to discuss ISO’s strategic objectives. The organization is coordinated by a Central Secretariat based in Geneva.A Council with a rotating membership of 20 member bodies provides guidance and governance, including setting the Central Secretariat’s annual budget.The Technical Management Board is responsible for over 250 technical committees, who develop the ISO standards.Member bodies are national bodies considered the most representative standards body in each country. These are the only members of ISO that have voting rights.Correspondent members are countries that do not have their own standards organization. These members are informed about ISO’s work, but do not participate in standards promulgation.
Subscriber members are countries with small economies. They pay reduced membership fees, but can follow the development of standards.Participating members are called “P” members, as opposed to observing members, who are called “O” members.